Eternals is a 2021 American epic superhero film based on the Marvel Comics race of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Chloé Zhao, who wrote the screenplay with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo. It stars an ensemble cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. In the film, the Eternals, an immortal alien race, emerge from hiding after thousands of years to protect Earth from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
|Directed by||Chloé Zhao|
by Jack Kirby
|Music by||Ramin Djawadi|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios|
In April 2018, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that a film based on the Eternals had begun development, with Ryan and Kaz Firpo hired to write the script in May. Zhao was set to direct the film by late September, and was given significant creative freedom with the film, which resulted in filming on location more than previous MCU films. Zhao re-wrote the screenplay, which Burleigh was later reported to have also contributed to. Starting in March 2019, a diverse cast was hired to portray the Eternals, which include the depiction of a gay superhero. Principal photography took place from July 2019 to February 2020, at Pinewood Studios as well as on location in London and Oxford, England, and in the Canary Islands.
Eternals premiered in Los Angeles on October 18, 2021, and will be released theatrically in the United States on November 5, as part of Phase Four of the MCU. The film received mixed reviews from critics.
After the return of half the population in Avengers: Endgame (2019) ignites "the emergence", the Eternals—an immortal alien race created by the Celestials who have secretly lived on Earth for over 7,000 years—reunite to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
- Gemma Chan as Sersi:
An empathetic Eternal with a strong connection to humans and the Earth, who can manipulate inanimate matter. Sersi has been in love with Ikaris for centuries and has a strong connection with Sprite. She poses as a museum curator on Earth while dating Dane Whitman. Producer Kevin Feige described Sersi as the lead of the film. Director Chloé Zhao said she and Chan were interested in creating "a nuanced female superhero that is rarely seen in this genre". Zhao added that Chan "brought a beautiful sense of gentleness, compassion and vulnerability" to the character that would "invite viewers to rethink what it means to be heroic". Chan called Sersi "grounded... [and] a little bit of a free spirit". Chan previously portrayed Minn-Erva in the MCU film Captain Marvel (2019).
- Richard Madden as Ikaris:
One of the most powerful Eternals who can fly and project cosmic energy beams from his eyes. Speaking to the relationship between Ikaris and Sersi, Madden said that they have "a deep level of romance", and "are two opposing sides of how they connect with the world", since Sersi has compassion for humans while Ikaris is more disconnected given the Eternals' long life span. Madden worked to find a way to portray Ikaris in a way that he would not come across as "bored of everything".
- Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo:
An Eternal who can project cosmic energy projectiles from his hands. Enamored with fame, Kingo becomes a popular Bollywood film star to blend in on Earth. Nanjiani wanted his performance to combine the wisecracking attitude of John McClane from the Die Hard film series with the look of Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. He studied Errol Flynn films and some of the original Zorro films to prepare for the role. Nanjiani, who is not a dancer, found learning the Bollywood dances challenging.
- Lia McHugh as Sprite: An Eternal who can project lifelike illusions. Sprite has the physical appearance of a 12-year-old child, with McHugh calling her an "old soul".
- Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos:
An Eternal and an intelligent weapons and technology inventor. He is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film.
- Lauren Ridloff as Makkari:
An Eternal who possesses the powers of super-speed. The character is the first deaf superhero in the MCU. After starting to run more in anticipation of the role, she shifted to muscle building in order to have "the symmetry of somebody who looks like a sprinter".
- Barry Keoghan as Druig: An aloof Eternal who can manipulate the minds of others.
- Don Lee as Gilgamesh: The strongest Eternal, with a deep connection to Thena. Lee pursued the role in order to be an inspiration to the younger generation as the first Korean superhero, and was able to utilize his boxing training for the role.
- Harish Patel as Karun: Kingo's manager.
- Kit Harington as Dane Whitman: A human who works at the Natural History Museum in London and is dating Sersi.
- Salma Hayek as Ajak:
The wise and spiritual leader of the Eternals, who has the ability to heal and is the "bridge" between the Eternals and the Celestials. Changing the character from a man in the comics allowed Hayek to lean into Ajak's femininity and make her the "mother figure" of the Eternals. Hayek was initially hesitant to work with Marvel, assuming she would have a supporting or "grandmother" role.
- Angelina Jolie as Thena: An elite warrior Eternal who can form any weapon out of cosmic energy, and develops a close bond with Gilgamesh over the centuries. Jolie trained with various swords, spears, and staffs for the role, as well as taking ballet.
Additionally, Haaz Sleiman portrays an architect who is Phastos' husband, and Ozer Ercan plays a smuggler. Gil Birmingham, Jashaun St. John, and Zain Al Rafeea have been cast in undisclosed roles. The Deviant general Kro will also appear in the film, as will the Celestials Nezarr the Calculator and Arishem the Judge. Harry Styles appears as Eros / Starfox in a post-credits scene.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in April 2018 that the studio was actively developing a film based on the Marvel Comics series Eternals, created by Jack Kirby, to release as part of their Phase Four slate of films. Marvel Studios had met with multiple screenwriters, and was believed to be focusing on the character Sersi in the film. Marvel set Ryan and Kaz Firpo to write the script a month later, with their outline including a love story between the characters Sersi and Ikaris. In June, Feige said Marvel was interested in exploring the "ancient aliens kind of sci-fi trope" by having the Eternals be the inspiration for myths and legends throughout the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
During late August, Marvel's director search for Eternals narrowed to a shortlist that included Chloé Zhao—who had also been in the running to direct Marvel's Black Widow (2021)—Nicole Kassell, Travis Knight, and the pair of Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. Zhao approached Marvel Studios about making the film as she had been a fan of the MCU. She wanted to work with the studio to bring her own take and world-building to the franchise, and impressed them with a presentation that Feige described as fascinating, with "reams of visuals". Zhao worked with producer Nate Moore to develop her pitch. The presentation left Marvel concerned that she might take on a different big-studio project instead of Eternals, forcing them to move quickly to secure her, and Zhao was hired as director in September. Zhao hoped to push the scope of the film further than Marvel's Avengers: Endgame (2019), but also wanted it to have intimacy. Zhao described the film as a melting pot of influences, from Kirby's original work, previous MCU projects, Zhao's fandom of the MCU, and her love of science fiction and fantasy films and manga. Speaking specifically to her love of manga, she hoped those influences would create a "marriage of East and West".
Marvel considered Eternals to be a perfect transition into its next phase of films along with projects such as Captain Marvel (2019), allowing the studio to cast a diverse group of actors to portray the various Eternals. Moore's initial planning documents for the project including the swapping of genders, sexualities, and ethnicities of some characters from the comic books, with Zhao further advocating for this approach. In February 2019, Feige reiterated that Marvel was interested in the Eternals due to Kirby's epic, century-spanning story, with the film version spanning 7,000 years and exploring humanity's place in the cosmos. Zhao noted that the Eternals "have lived among us for so long, [they have] the same struggles like identity, purpose, faith, personal freedom versus greater good — all the duality and flaws that make us human". When trying to develop a story that spanned so many years, Marvel realized that the characters would likely be a family unit, with friendship that would "turn into frenemies, and then turn into enemies, and then come back to friendship". Zhao also looked to the Earth as an eleventh character in the film, chronicling its journey along side the Eternal characters. Marvel also wanted to create more ensemble films that were not crossover films, like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), while introducing relatively unknown characters to audiences as they did with that film's title characters and the Avengers.
"I wanted it to reflect the world we live in. But also I wanted to put a cast together that feels like a group of misfits. I didn't want the jocks. I want you to walk away at the end of the movie not thinking, 'This person is this ethnicity, that person is that nationality.' No. I want you to walk away thinking, 'That's a family.' You don't think about what they represent."
—Zhao on the diverse cast of the film
Angelina Jolie joined the cast in March 2019, reportedly as Sersi, with Kumail Nanjiani and Don Lee cast in undisclosed roles the next month. At that time, the film was expected to feature Marvel Studios' first gay superhero. In May, Richard Madden entered negotiations for the role of Ikaris, and Salma Hayek had entered early negotiations for an undisclosed role the following month. In July, Variety reported that the cast included Jolie, Madden, and Millie Bobby Brown, but Brown denied that she had been cast.
At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Feige officially announced The Eternals with a release date of November 6, 2020. He officially announced the casting of Jolie as Thena, Nanjiani as Kingo, Lee as Gilgamesh, Madden as Ikaris, and Hayek as Ajak, along with Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, and Lia McHugh as Sprite. Zhao looked for actors for each role that could "find a bit of themselves in their character". Feige added that one of these actors was portraying an LGBTQ character, with actor Haaz Sleiman later revealing that Phastos is depicted as gay in the film. Sleiman portrays the character's husband, and the pair have a child in the film. Sleiman felt it was important to depict "how loving and beautiful a queer family can be" rather than the "sexual or rebellious" depiction in some previous media. Feige said the relationship was "always sort of inherent in the story" and he felt it was "extremely well done" in the film, while Sleiman said it was a "thoughtful" depiction.
Eternals is set around eight months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and addresses why the Eternals did not interfere in any past conflicts in the MCU. Both Feige and Moore said the film would have "major ripple effects" on the future of the MCU, and at times, it was "a challenge" to balance the grounded nature of the MCU with the "mythic grandeur" of the Eternals property.
By the film's official announcement in July 2019, principal photography had begun at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Ben Davis served as director of photography, after doing so on several previous MCU films. Zhao said Marvel Studios allowed her creative freedom to shoot the film on location, "exactly the way [she] wanted to shoot" it. She was able to use a similar style to her previous films, including 360° shots and working with the same camera and rigs as was used for her film Nomadland (2020), which Zhao was set to complete back-to-back with The Eternals. Zhao felt that she "got lucky in that Marvel wants to take risks and do something different." Zhao cited The Revenant (2015) as a primary influence when composing the film's action sequences.
Gemma Chan and Barry Keoghan were in talks to join the cast in August 2019. Chan previously portrayed Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, but reports noted that she was potentially being looked at by Marvel to play a separate character in this film. Since Minn-Erva dies in that film, Chan had felt that it was unlikely she would return to the MCU, but after working on the film she was told by Feige that the studio wanted to "make better use" of her in a future project. This led to Chan auditioning for Sersi, one of the last actresses to be considered for the role. Chan later described Sersi as the most difficult role for the film to cast. Chan and Keoghan were confirmed to be cast in the film at the D23 Expo in August, in the roles of Sersi and Druig, respectively, along with Kit Harington as Dane Whitman. Chan said she and Marvel Studios were surprised by how soon after Captain Marvel her new MCU role came, with both assuming that it would have been a project further in the future. Harish Patel was cast at the end of August as Karun, Kingo's manager, and filmed his role from September 2019 until January 2020.
By early November, filming took place in the Canary Islands. The filming cast and crew, including Jolie and Madden, had to be evacuated from a shooting location on the island of Fuerteventura when an explosive device was found there. The device was thought to be a remnant armament from a Nazi base. Later that month, Zain Al Rafeea joined the cast. In early January 2020, filming took place outside the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in Oxford, England, as well as Hampstead Heath and in Camden in London, under the working title Sack Lunch. Chan said the filming process felt very different from what she experienced on Captain Marvel, explaining that Eternals shot more on location and utilized natural light while Captain Marvel had more studio work and bluescreen. Filming wrapped on February 4, 2020.
In March 2020, Scanline VFX, one of the companies working on the film's visual effects, confirmed that they would be working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early April, Disney shifted much of their Phase Four slate of films due to the pandemic, moving The Eternals' release date to February 12, 2021. In August, the film's title was officially shortened from The Eternals to Eternals, and the next month, the release date was pushed back to November 5, 2021. Reshoots had taken place by mid-November 2020.
In January 2021, Zhao revealed that she was also a writer on the film, with Patrick Burleigh soon revealed to have worked on the script as well. Additional filming occurred in Los Angeles in early February, also under the working title Sack Lunch. Dylan Tichenor and Craig Wood serve as co-editors of the film. Tichenor said Zhao usually edits her own films and has "strong opinions", but on Eternals she was relying on Tichenor and Wood due to the size of the production and the ongoing awards season for Nomadland. Tichenor added that Zhao respected the pair's editing experience and point of view, and they made their first cut of the film without much input from her. They began adjusting the film based on Zhao's feedback, and were still working on the editing in April 2021. At the end of the month, Zhao said editing for the film was in its "final stretch", and Jashaun St. John was revealed to appear in the film, after previously starring in Zhao's film Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015).
At the end of May 2021, with the release of the first teaser trailer and poster for the film, the official writing credits were revealed: Zhao was credited as the screenwriter, both as a solo contributor and as part of a writing team with Burleigh, while Ryan and Kaz Firpo received story credit. Additionally, Gil Birmingham was revealed to have been cast in the film. In July 2021, Writers Guild of America West presented the film's final writing credits, awarding Ryan and Kaz Firpo screenplay credit along with Zhao and the team of Zhao and Burleigh, in addition to their story credit. Moore believed the studio had "bit off as much as we could chew" with the film, creating one that "felt urgent and present and had [a fast] pace, but also took time to reflect back over the centuries".
At the film's world premiere, Matt Donnelly of Variety tweeted that Harry Styles made an appearance in a post-credits scene as Eros, Thanos' brother in the comics, which was not shown in early press screenings of the film.
Ramin Djawadi composed the score for the film, after previously doing so for Marvel's Iron Man (2008). Two songs from the film's soundtrack, "Across the Oceans of Time" and "Eternals Theme", were released as singles on October 22, 2021, while the full album will be released on November 3.
The first footage of the film was released in May 2021 as part of a promotional video from Marvel Studios celebrating their films and a return to movie theaters. Though the footage was limited and "vague", Hoai-Tran Bui at /Film still felt it was "very exciting". Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge felt one of the biggest moments of the footage was seeing Jolie wielding a sword made of light. He was also encouraged that Eternals appeared to be one of Marvel's first films to "deliver on [their] years-long promise of creating films with more diverse casts". Nerdist's Michael Arbeiter said the footage was quick, but felt that it "manages an air of wonderment".
The first teaser for the film was released on May 24, 2021. Gartenberg felt the teaser was light on plot elements, with it instead focusing on the "civilization-spanning scope of the superhero team and its members throughout human history". He also believed the film was "a big swing" from Marvel Studios to entice audiences with a lesser-known comics property, but believed that it would succeed due to its diverse cast of well-known actors and Zhao's status as "one of the most exciting directors around". io9's Charlies Pulliam-Moore felt the trailer was a "multiple millennia-spanning recap of Earth's history", and said it was unclear how much the larger MCU would impact on the film outside of a brief reference to the Avengers at the end of the trailer. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Nick Romano felt the teaser was a combination of "thrilling, goosebump-inducing moments" and some jokes. Erik Adams of The A.V. Club felt the spot teased some fresh angles for the MCU in a similar way to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and he enjoyed the images of Kingo's Bollywood dance, Sprite performing karaoke, and the end scene of the Eternals eating together and joking about the Avengers. After seeing the teaser, Variety's Adam B. Vary described the film as "unquestionably a Chloé Zhao movie", but wished more action set pieces were featured in the teaser to see how Zhao would approach them in the film. Adele Ankers of IGN discussed the poster that was released at the same time as the trailer, highlighting how the Eternals appear in silhouette against a sunlit background which she described as "another taste of Chloé Zhao's signature filming style and the use of natural light to illuminate a frame" that would be seen in the film. Upon release, the teaser quickly became the number one trending video on YouTube and amassed 77 million global views in its first 24 hours. Disney's president of marketing Asad Ayaz said the teaser was designed to just be an introduction to the characters and tone and not give much of the film away, adding the marketing team would be "very judicious" on when more material would be revealed, while also using the releases of Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings before Eternals to help expose audiences to the characters.
The final trailer was released in August 2021, with Ethan Shanfeld and Manori Ravindran of Variety feeling it was "more serious in tone" than the teaser with the Eternals "grappling with the prospect of emerging after centuries living apart in order to help humans". Entertainment Weekly's Devan Coggan felt that the trailer was the "best glimpse yet" of the film and gave a "sense of the vast scale and scope of the film", while answering "one important question" about the absence of the Eternals during the conflict against Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Aaron Couch at The Hollywood Reporter said the trailer "reveals much of [the film's] plot as well as its characters' powers, teasing the answers to key questions about who the Eternals answer to, their relationship to Earth and why they ultimately didn't intervene" in the conflict against Thanos.
In October 2021, Lexus released a commercial promoting the film and its Lexus IS 500 sports sedan starring Nanjiani as Kingo, with frequent MCU directors Joe and Anthony Russo guiding its development and Framestore working on the visual effects. Lexus created ten concept cars based on the ten Eternals characters from the film. The IS 500 and Lexus NX will be featured in the film.
Eternals had its world premiere at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on October 18, 2021, and was screened at the Rome Film Festival on October 24. The film will be released theatrically in many European countries on November 3, and in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 5. In September 2021, Disney announced that the film would have an exclusive theatrical release for a minimum of 45 days. Eternals was previously set for release on November 6, 2020, before it was shifted to February 12, 2021, and then to the November 2021 date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be part of Phase Four of the MCU.
In May 2021, a Chinese state media report excluded Eternals, as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, from its list of upcoming MCU films releasing, which Variety noted "added to rumors" that the films would not be released in China, especially since Zhao had become "an unexpected persona non grata" in the country following her Academy Award wins for Nomadland. By September 2021, Deadline Hollywood reported it remained "an open question" if the Chinese government or Zhao would attempt to "rehabilitate" the situation, but it "seems likely" the film would not release in China following the country's response to Nomadland as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings likely not releasing in the country either following backlash from comments made by star Simu Liu in 2017.
Advanced ticket sales for Eternals were estimated to be $2.6 million in its first 24 hours, surpassing those for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($1.4 million) and Black Widow ($2 million) during the same time frame, while AMC Theatres had the largest first day sales of 2021 for the film. As of October 2021, Boxoffice Pro has projected that the film will earn $82–102 million within its opening weekend, and around $210–280 million in total domestic box office.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 63% based on 95 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "An ambitious superhero epic that soars more often than it strains, Eternals takes the MCU in intriguing—and occasionally confounding—new directions." It is the lowest-rated MCU film on Rotten Tomatoes, breaking the record that Thor: The Dark World (2013) held for nearly a decade. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 56 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Evening Standard gave the film 4/5 stars, describing it as "lavish" and "ambitious", and writing: "The whole thing is really long... Does it take an eternity to end? Not at all. With characters and concepts this strong, Zhao’s quite right to take her time." Owen Gleiberman of Variety felt that the film was a "squarely fun and gratifying watch" despite its long runtime, and a "very standard" superhero movie. He found the Eternals a "winning prototype of a more dynamically inclusive superhero world", but was disappointed over Zhao's missing filmmaking style that shaped her films The Rider (2017) and Nomadland (2020) to "embrace the straight-up expository conventionality of Marvel filmmaking". Brian Truitt of USA Today gave the film a score of 2.5/4 stars; he felt that "Eternals looks unlike any other Marvel movie and is perhaps the most welcoming for MCU neophytes in forever" due to the utilization of Zhao's "penchant for naturalistic environments".
Linda Marric of The Jewish Chronicle gave the film 3/5 stars, describing it as "a mishmash of well-meaning, yet jarringly verbose and bafflingly incoherent nonsense which is only just abut saved by some half decent performances." Nicholas Barber of BBC also gave the film 3/5 stars, writing: "considering that this sci-fi saga is directed by Zhao, and that its story spans the creation of the Universe and the fate of the planet, it would have been reasonable to expect it to prompt slack-jawed wonder rather than the grudging appreciation of an efficient, workmanlike job." Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times gave the film 3/4 stars, writing that it "has its flaws; in a nutshell, it’s too long... it’s got some pretty slow spots midfilm and it’s desperately in need of a bit more wit", but added: "what it does have is a palpable, artful mood; this is a movie full of superheroes who spend time thinking and feeling, and of special effects that aren’t just zippy but often delicately elegant."
Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film 2/5 stars, writing that it was "constantly engaged in a kind of grit-toothed authenticity theatre, going out of its way to show you it's doing all the things proper cinema does, even though none of them bring any discernible benefit whatsoever to the film at hand." Kevin Maher of The Times also gave the film 2/5 stars, writing: "There’s a strange self-sabotaging energy at the heart of this landmark blockbuster." Steve Rose of The Guardian also gave the film 2/5 stars, writing: "It’s not exactly boring – there’s always something new to behold – but nor it is particularly exciting, and it lacks the breezy wit of Marvel’s best movies", and added: "It’s like coming into Avengers: Endgame cold without having seen any of the preceding instalments." K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone wrote: "Eternals is good at telling us where to look, at impressing us with its manufactured sense of grandeur. What it lacks is any credible sense of what’s actually worth seeing." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times noted similarities the film had with The Tree of Life and The Old Guard, and wrote: "You walk out in the depressing realization that you’ve just seen one of the more interesting movies Marvel will ever make, and hopefully the least interesting one Chloé Zhao will ever make."
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